Copyright, fair contracts for authors, and libraries were among the points addressed by politicians at a hustings hosted by the Society of Authors (SoA) and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) last night (24th March).
The event saw writers given the opportunity to question Martin Horwood from the Liberal Democrats, Labour’s Chris Bryant, culture, communications and creative industries minister Ed Vaizey from the Conservative Party, and Green Party candidate Hugh Small.
The lively debate, which ended with Vaizey and Bryant arguing on stage over issues including funding for libraries, was moderated by SoA chairman Daniel Hahn.
Vaizey said the Arts Council was working for libraries, and pointed to a recent announcement of funding for free wifi in libraries in England, but said that central government did not fund library provision, and that any cuts were by local authorities which “like to blame the government”.
But Bryant pointed out that 80% of local authority money came from government, prompting an argument with Vaizey who disagreed that central government had anything to do with local library funding.
Bryant said he thought it was wrong that a council chief executive was chairing the Leadership for Libraries task force, and that he would put ministers in charge of it. He also said library provision was legislated, and that he would prefer to see the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which legislates that local authorities should provide a comprehensive library service, used properly rather than create a new law.
“I want to see what a comprehensive library service looks like,” he said. “And I would like to see more cooperation across the nation between library authorities.”
Small said the Green Party would “commit” to libraries, while Horwood said libraries were changing, that he could not remember that last time his children, aged 10 and 13, borrowed a book. He said libraries were part of a larger picture of adapting to digital change, but were an “increasingly small part of that”.
“I think it is important we have that provision of local libraries, but I think they are changing beyond recognition,” he added.
Fair contracts for authors was one of the big issues of the discussion, with Horwood saying that he wanted to see writers protected in the way that tenancy agreements were governed by strict law.
“That recognises the unequal power relationship between tenants and landlords, and we need something like this for writers,” he said.
Small also said that unfair contract law existed in other industries, and should also cover writers, but Vaizey argued that people could walk away from contracts, a point that was disputed by the audience, with many people saying publishers had the upper hand and could lay down terms authors had no choice but to agree to.
On copyright, Vaizey said there were no plans for further reform, and that the European Single Digital Market (SDM) was a “great opportunity”.
But Bryant condemned the idea, saying it was “fundamentally ill conceived” and that the Conservative Party had “rather sold the pass on this” because of its desire to negotiate better terms for European Union membership.
The panellists were quizzed on Public Lending Right (PLR) on e-books and whether they planned to change the law to make it possible for PLR to be paid on remote e-book loans, but all dodged the question, simply saying PLR was good.
The panellists also told the audience which books they were currently reading, with Vaizey saying he was reading Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing (Penguin), while Bryant said he had just finished Ian McEwan’s The Children Act (Jonathan Cape) and had bought a collection of poetry by Shelley. Horwood said he had just purchased Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Trigger Warning (Headline), while Small said he was reading a book about GDP, as well as David Rosenberg’s Rebel Footprints (Pluto Press).